Commons hosts vacation dinners; students sound the alarm on food waste and COVID-19 risks

Yale hosted two separate vacation dinners at Commons this year, raising concerns among some students about food waste and COVID-19.

Journalist and editor

Courtesy of Giri Viswanathan

On December 3-4, first and second graders attended the historic Yale Vacation Dinner in the newly remodeled Commons Dining Room. While some students enjoyed the holiday festivities, others expressed concerns about exposure to COVID-19 and whether there was an unnecessary amount of food.

Usually held at Commons in the days leading up to Finals season, the Holiday Dinner is an opportunity for the early years to come together and celebrate the holiday season – and the impending end of the first semester – with their classmates. However, for several students, the rally looked like a potential risk of COVID-19 given a spike in campus cases over the past week.

“It was a gross display of hypocrisy for an institution that has been very aware of COVID-19 so far, and I feel a lot less safe having attended it,” Brook Smith ’25 told The News.

When Commons closed for construction in the spring of 2017, Yale Hospitality moved the Holiday Dinner instead of Yale on York. This year, for the first time since 2016, the holiday dinner returned to the Commons.

Because the class of 2024 could not have a normal vacation dinner as the first years due to COVID-19 restrictions, the University hosted a separate dinner for the current sophomores.

For both dinners, the doors opened at 4:45 p.m., but the lines continued in Beinecke Plaza until well after 5:00 p.m. Upon arrival, the students had the opportunity to check their coats and pick up a champagne flute filled with sparkling apple juice. Winter projections adorned the walls, waders stood by the doorway, and synthetic snow decorated a backdrop for students to take photos.

“The Year One Vacation Dinner is one of Yale Hospitality’s most elaborate, engaging, and immersive events,” said Bob Sullivan, senior director of residential catering for Yale Hospitality. “Our team was very attached to ensuring that the class of 2024 (this year’s second year students) did not lose the opportunity to experience this event, although one year later! ”

But some students have expressed concern that the event was misguided given the continued presence of COVID-19 on campus, suggesting the decision to hold the festivities in person was at odds with many COVID policies. -19 from the University.

Alex Abarca ’24 told The News there were few precautions in place to prevent holiday dinners from becoming “high profile events.”

“The glaring lack of consistency is hurting Yale’s COVID-19 response and undermining the claim that it is science-driven,” said Edmund Zheng ’24. “If you allow two vacation dinners with thousands of people at Commons who are mostly unmasked, how does that fit with the rules that require masks in the library, where students aren’t so excited? “

COVID-19 university coordinator Stephanie Spangler told the News that students with questions or concerns about current university guidelines or the community’s compliance with those guidelines should contact their Health and Safety Manager, call the Campus COVID Resource Line or call the University hotline.

Smith told News the room was so crowded she could “barely move through the crowd,” adding that most of the students were caught because they were encouraged to stand up and move around the room.

Students walked around Commons to the various stations, grabbing items from the parade and chatting with their friends and classmates. Marco Niño ’24 described the event as a “kind of medieval cocktail”.

As tradition dictates, the dinner was marked by the Parade des Edibles, an elaborate procession of dishes.

“There was a huge food parade with ice sculptures, tons of seafood, all kinds of meats, sushi, a ridiculously long loaf of challah bread, a Yale-themed Yule log and more. again, “said Giri Viswanathan ’25. “The procession was complete with a line of marching drums, a trombone player, waders and a lot of pomp and circumstance. To top it all, [University] President Peter Salovey – dressed somewhat like Willy Wonka – led the ceremony. ”

For the first time in the nearly 70-year tradition of the Yale Holiday Dinner, the parade was led by the president of the university and dean of Yale College – currently, Salovey and Marvin Chun.

The parade began with the Blue Steel Drumline, a New Haven-based band. Salovey and Chun then led the group, followed by a procession of flags from the 14 residential colleges.

Food followed, including floats filled with fruits and vegetables, poultry, cold cuts, sushi, bread, desserts, and a sleigh of seafood ice cream.

But for some students, the amount of food seemed excessive. Even if the university had provided half the amount of food it provided, Zheng told the News, the dinner would still have been extravagant.

Zheng added that it would have been good if the university presented a plan to donate uneaten food; he feared that most of it would be thrown away.

“The holiday dinners felt bad,” Patrick Hayes ’24 told The News. “There was way too much food, and it was unnecessary.”

Hayes suggested that the university work with organizations such as the city’s food system policy division and CitySeed to address food insecurity in New Haven, rather than spending large sums on events like the Dinner. holidays or even the “fine food” served in the dining rooms.

Commons reopened in September 2021 as part of the new Yale Schwarzman Center.


Lucy Hodgman covers student life. She previously covered the Yale College Council for the News. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is in her second year at Grace Hopper majoring in English.

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